Probe launched into how social services handled Lucy McHugh abuse claims

A probe is under way into how claims of abuse against 13-year-old Lucy McHugh were handled by social services in the months before she was murdered.

The trial of Stephen Nicholson who faces a life sentence for stabbing the schoolgirl to death heard that teachers at two schools attended by Lucy had become so concerned at her contact with the defendant and circumstances at her home that they had alerted social services.

Lucy (pictured), who was described as “vulnerable” by prosecutor William Mousley QC, came to the attention of teachers after she told several friends that she was pregnant and had been having a sexual relationship with the defendant, an adult man, living as a lodger at her home.

There were also concerns about her mental wellbeing as she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and had been referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Another warning sign identified by teachers was Lucy would at times not have a proper lunch at school and would eat just a bag of sweets, Winchester Crown Court heard.

The trial was told that Southampton City Council’s Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (Mash) decided to take “no further action” after talking to Lucy’s mother, Stacey White, who had become “very, very unhappy” at the involvement of social services.

Emma Wright, the safeguarding lead at St Anne’s Catholic School in Southampton, told the court that Lucy, a year seven pupil, was brought to her for using her mobile phone to Snapchat with her “boyfriend”, Nicholson, during class in June 2017.

She said that she arranged for a meeting with Lucy’s mother, Stacey White, who did not turn up.

Ms Wright said that Lucy told her that in the evening she was at home with her mother’s partner, Richard Elmes, Stephen Nicholson and his brother.

She said that she decided to contact Mash because: “I thought there were a lot of men with access to her without mum in the house.”

Ms Wright said she spoke to Ms White and said: “Mum didn’t seen surprised, mum told me she tracks all of Lucy’s messages and mum seemed unconcerned.”

She added: “Mum was quite confrontational, she was very cross, she was very, very unhappy that we had contacted social services about Stephen.”

Ms Wright added: “I spoke to social services the next day and they said mum had been very unhappy with them, they said it was a long conversation with mum.

“Social services said no further action at that time.”

The trial also heard from the school’s head of year seven, Jennie Boorman, who said: “I felt I had to escalate it because she was at home alone with Stephen, he would babysit when mummy was at work.”

The concerns about Lucy’s contact with Nicholson were raised again with social services when she was transferred to Redbridge Community School.

Teacher Nicola Franklin-Allen, a teacher at Redbridge Community School, where Lucy moved to in September 2017, said that the issue of Lucy having a relationship with Nicholson was also raised with her.

She said that Lucy denied having sex with him and Ms White told her that Lucy was not left alone with Nicholson and that Lucy had a habit of making up stories.

She added that social services also told her that the matter had already been investigated and was not of any concern.

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, of Hampshire Police, said: “Lucy was vulnerable by definition of her age at the age of 13 but there is a serious case review ongoing at the moment which is standard practice when sadly a child dies involving all agencies including the police and social services, so it would be wrong for me to comment until we have the results of that review.”

A spokeswoman for Southampton City Council declined to comment and said: “Once the trial is completed, the tragic death of Lucy McHugh will be subject to a Serious Case Review.”

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